Star Dancer preview from Dell Sweet
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Randy Best raced down the exterior hallway watching for the tee that would split off and take him from the octagon where Kenneth Rowland had been locked down. He had set him free; now they only needed to make it to the el banks without being caught.
The plan, so far, had gone off mostly without a hitch. He had dumped CO2 into the air system; the gas he had promised Ken he would use. After all Carbon Monoxide was a gas; at least in the form he had used it. He had thought of CO2 pellets, but they would be detectable and readily missed from the ships inventory and being detected would end the whole operation before it even began.
He had released Ken and headed directly to the Octagon. Ken had been waiting on the door. He had swung the door wide and began backtracking to the closest exit before the door had bounced off the wall with a loud bang. He had assumed Ken was right behind him. He had made the door; turned to tell Ken to move it and the door had slid shut on its track just that fast. The brief look he got showed an empty corridor; Ken must have gone in the other direction for some reason.
His heart skipped a beat and then settled down once more. His pulse was run away: Pounding in his ears, but the mask was secure; none of the carbon monoxide was leaking in. He turned after a brief pause and sprinted off down the corridor. They would have to meet up in the main corridor on the other side of the bubble.
It amazed him how easy it had been. Not, he told himself, that he had doubted it would go as Ken had said. Ken had researched it; he knew what he was doing. He was placing his entire future on it and that was the only reason that Randy had placed his future on it too.
And it would be his future if he was caught. There was a federal troop presence on this ship, and that meant it was technically an escape within a Federal facility. Life without: No chance of ever seeing the world again if they were caught. He rounded a slight curve and found the tee; a second after finding it he was pounding down the outer corridor, the echoes of his footfalls loud in the absolute quiet.
The hallway curved as did all the hallways on the ship. He sensed something before he saw anything and he had broken his stride immediately, sucking a deep breath and skidding to a stop, the stolen taser pistol coming up. He fired as soon as the two workers came into sight, the one fell, and the other jumped away slipping back around the corner. He never heard the one behind him. One moment he was standing, slightly crouched and the next he was falling; an explosion of confusion suddenly dominating his thoughts. A split second later the pain crashed into him hard driving all other thoughts from his head: A split second after that the lights went out and he crashed to the floor, bouncing on the carbon composite floor panel and sliding slightly forward before the furrows in his brow flattened out and he relaxed completely onto the floor.
“Clear!” The guard that had fired the taser shot called out.
“Who are you?” A voice called back.
“Pratt… Badge T89Y!” The other man stepped around the corner, rifle held high, sweeping from side to side.
“Jesus, what the hell is this?” His eyes fixed on Pratt. He had seen him around the mess a few times. He had something to do with cargo; at least he was sure that was where he had seen him.
“Not a clue… Heard the shots, came running… How is it you managed to escape the gas or whatever it is?”
“Hull breach? Maybe… Alarm went off and I grabbed an emergency mask. There were three of us, two of us made it in time… You think we hit something?”
“Or something hit us, right? Has to be.” Pratt reached down, pulled the body closer, and then pulled the man’s arms back one by one. He used plasticuffs and secured his hands behind him. He keyed the com button on his wrist implant, released it and looked up first. “Did you call it in? Is the Sec. Com. up?”
“Spoke to him, he is.”
Pratt keyed his com button once more. “T89Y…” he listened to the clean, low crash of static. “Base… Base this is T89Y…”
“Baylor,” came the answer. “Operations are thin, repeat thin… What is your situation, T89Y?”
“Got a bad guy; myself and, “he glanced over at the other man, reading the tag on his uniform, “Baker.” The man wore no badge. “We don’t know the circumstances here; we have one down, taser pistol,” he kicked the taser pistol a little further away from the body, gripped the back of the man’s jumpsuit and turned him over. “Best, that’s the name of the bad guy…” He rifled his pockets and found nothing but a set of keys. “Keys in his pocket,” he flipped the small set of keys from side to side. They were shaped funny. Nothing he had seen before.
“Octagon,” Baker said. He keyed his own com link. “Octagon keys, for the bubble and the cells.” He released the com link. “Where the hell did this guy get a set of lockups from? Jesus.”
The other man, Baker’s partner, began moving around on the floor, groaning. A second later he sat up, rubbing at his temples.
The com link squawked static and then Baylor’s voice came through clear. “All stations… All stations. One by one in post order, report in so we know what we are dealing with here.”
Station by station the call-in proceeded until there were none left to call in. Three two man crews had not called in and were presumably out.
“All stations… All stations… The report I have says we had an exhaust dump into our air supply, which means CO2 in heavy concentrations. That has been taken care of, but it will take some time to scrub the air content. There are two bad guys down, one at corridor ten, intersection four, just outside the octagon, the other a prisoner just inside the octagon… We think that is it. Keep your masks on until you hear otherwise… T89Y…? T89Y transport that prisoner directly to the octagon… They’ll be waiting. Stay off the air unless… Baylor out.”
The alarm warning had come on taking him completely by surprise. The low oxygen alarm had not gone off at any time in the past that he could recall. He stared, his thoughts spinning freely, he had already begun to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation before he got the emergency mask on and snugged it down. A rush of oxygen awakened his thoughts that had begun stumbling over one another. A quick check of the alarm interface showed the amount of CO2 in the air and before the alarm came in from three decks down he had the fresh air systems on, purging the carbon monoxide from the system. A few seconds of searching found the highest concentration and he closed and sealed the bulkhead adjoining that space to cut off the flow. Baylor was barking at him over the intercom, he reached forward; plugged into the com system routing it to his mask and answered.
“All good… At least with me: Petra is in quarters and may have been affected. What is the situation?”
“Uh, the situation seems to be a half baked escape attempt. There is going to be an inquiry about this one I think. A Fed crew member diverted the carbon monoxide from the auxiliary lighting generator test mechanism. He then freed an inmate thinking we were all out; never got the inmate anywhere out of containment… Two of my guys nabbed them both… The bad guy tried a shootout with some of my guys… Had an old style taser pistol. He’s done up. Inmate is being locked down in solitary. Going to have some sickness all around; I’m missing six crew members… Let me know about your navigator, Mike. Make sure you get her on oxygen, purge that CO2 as fast as possible.”
Mike took a deep breath, turned from the console, grabbed another mask and stood slowly. He pulled a radio unit from a clip on the console: Another thing he had never done in all his years on Star Dancer. The radio put the bridge and all conversations on a private channel: Funneled away from the main communications trunk; strictly meant for emergency situations. He keyed the side button. “Baylor… On the move, secure com,” he headed for Petra’s quarters.
The door was unlocked and so there was no need for an override. Petra had obviously tried to fight it when she realized what was happening. She was collapsed on the floor near her rack. Mike bent and checked her pulse: Strong and steady. He gathered her into his arms, settled her onto the rack and fitted the mask over her face. He switched on the oxygen, tightened the straps on the mask and then smoothed Petra’s hair away from her forehead.
“Hey,” he tapped her cheeks lightly with an open palm. “Come on, Pet come on.” Her took one hand between the two of his and rubbed it briskly. He felt her hand close loosely on one of his fingers and then go limp once more.
“Come on, Petra come on.” He patted her face again. “Wake up, Pet come on.”
She mumbled and her eyes crept open slowly. They were unfocused for a second, seeming to search around the room: They slowly settled on his face. “Pet?” She asked.
“What?” Mike asked.
“You called me Pet… Pet, you said Pet.” Petra said. She struggled to her elbows and immediately grabbed her head. “Oh my God that hurts.”
Mike grinned. “You’re back.”
“I’m back… What the hell was that? What happened?”
“I don’t know. Some crew member on the Fed side tried to break a guy out of the cellblock on three. Shot some carbon monoxide into our fresh air.” He rose; walked to a wall cabinet with a red cross stenciled on it and opened it. He withdrew a small bottle, picked up a disposable cup and filled it at her sink and then returned. “Take this, it will help.”
Petra eyed the bottle and then twisted off the cap. She shook out two tablets, added two more, pushed the mask aside and downed them with the water. The water itself seemed to knock the headache back instantly to where it was much easier to handle.
“Hundreds of years and we still rely on aspirin,” Mike said. His voice was muffled slightly by the mask. He jabbed one finger at his wrist implant. “Oxygen levels coming up… A few more minutes and it will be safe to breath.”
Petra tried a slight smile on her face and then stretched her mouth and rubbed the muscles in her face. “Feels frozen. How can something like that happen?”
“It isn’t supposed to be able to happen,” Mike said. “I’m thinking that every intra cruiser is going to be refitted after this. It seems like all that this guy had to do was dump carbon monoxide into the air system and it poisoned the air ship wide. That makes sense in a way, it is all connected, but damn that is so stupid. I can’t believe I never thought of it myself.”
“How did you manage to not get caught by it: You and Baylor too, right?”
“Bridge alarm,” Mike laughed aloud. “Ironic that it can tell you there is a leak or a contaminant in the air yet it can’t do anything about it.” He shook his head. “That is how. I was already feeling it by the time the alarm sounded and I realized it was a real thing. Almost didn’t make it.” He realized suddenly that he was sitting on her rack, her legs were pressed against one side of one of his own legs and his upper body was still leaned forward over her. He moved away, realized there was nowhere to move too and started to rise. Her hand came up; closed around his forearm.
“Don’t,” Petra said. He settled back down, feeling the warmth of her legs as they came to rest against the length of his thigh once more. Her eyes stayed on his own as he settled his weight back onto the bed.
“Okay,” Mike agreed.
“I’m just a little afraid… Sick too…”
“I can get something for the sickness,” Mike said. He made to stand once more and Petra increased the pressure on his forearm. Her grip was firm, heavy, compelling, he settled down more fully onto the bed.
“You called me Pet…” Her voice was low, husky. She smiled.
“I…” He nodded, considered his words, started to speak and the radio he had clipped to his belt interrupted him.
“Michael, I’m on my way up to you in the el… Levels look good down here. No serious complications with my crew…” Static spit and crackled. “How’s your navigator, Stanovich?”
Mike smiled at Petra and pulled the radio from his belt.
“Good… She’s a little sick, I think she’ll be okay… How’s a thing like this happen, Baylor?”
“On my way to you on the el… I have the answers with me. The incident is over, the ship is secure. The inmate is locked down in solitary.” The radio spit static and then cleared to a low hum.
“I think the headache is lifting.” Petra said. She shifted and one breast pushed firmly against the inside of his forearm.
”Good,” Mike agreed. He had sat back quickly, not wanting Petra to get the wrong idea. His face reddened and he turned away as he stood. Petra stared at him from the rack, her eyes wide as he turned back to her.
“Help me?” She asked.
He looked at her stupidly for a moment until she waggled the fingers of one hand. He thrust his own hand forward and helped her to her feet.
“Sorry, I can be an idiot sometimes,” Mike told her. Her body came up against his own as she made her feet, making him aware that he was in her sleeping quarters and that the space was very small.
She smiled. “I should go with you.”
“You should? … Of course you should… Yes… Baylor will be up,” Mike said as he turned and walked out into the narrow hallway. He caught Petra’s eyes once more as he turned and saw confusion there. Great, he thought. Great.